Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

Lectio Divina as School of Prayer

7. Hermeneutic circle

Scripture constantly takes on a new meaning, each time one reads it. Here again modern hermeneutics concur with the intuitions of the Fathers of the Desert: These would have identify with the statement of Augustine: "Yesterday you understood a little, today you understand more; tomorrow you will understand still more: the very light of God becomes stronger in you" (In Joh. tract. 14,5, CCL 36, p.144, lines 34-36).

For the monks of the desert, the words of Scripture (as also, indeed, those of the Ancients), transcended the limited dimension of the "event" in which these words were first encountered and in which their meaning was discerned. These "words" projected a "universe of meaning" into which they tried to enter. The call to sell everything, to give the proceeds to the poor, to follow the Gospel (Matt. 19:21), the exhortation never to let the sun go down on one's anger (Eph. 4:25), the commandment to love; all these texts formed the life of the fathers of the desert in a particular way and projected a "universe of meaning" into which they strove to enter, which they strove to make their own. Sanctity in the desert consisted in giving a concrete form to this universe of possibilities which sprang from the sacred texts, in interpreting them and making them a reality in daily life.

desertfathers_webAbba Nesteros (in Cassian, Conf. 14♦), tells us that "we must have the zeal to learn by heart the sacred Scriptures in their order, and to go over and over them without ceasing in our memory. This continual meditation - says he - will procure for us a double fruit." First of all, it will preserve us from evil thoughts. Then, this continual recitation or meditation will lead us to a constantly new understanding. And Nesteros has this wonderful sentence: "In the measure in which our spirit is renewed by this study, the Scriptures also begin to take on a new face (scripturarum facies incipiet innovari). A more mysterious understanding is given us, whose beauty grows with our progress." (Again, we find this indissoluble link between putting the Scriptures into practice and the ability to understand them at a deeper level).

We could once more compare this vision with the modern approach of a Ricoeur, for example, who says that once a text has come out of the hand of its author it acquires an existence of its own, and assumes a new meaning each time it is read - each reading being an interpretation, which is a revelation of one of the almost infinite possibilities contained in the text.


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